Gearhart officials unanimously approved the second reading of the tsunami hazard overlay zone ordinance, legislative amendments to increase community land use and human resiliency in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami occurrence in Gearhart.

The city’s decision comes after a state legislative session in which lawmakers overturned a 1995 prohibition on constructing new public facilities within the tsunami zone.

The ordinance will amend the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance to update tsunami hazard background, policies and development hazards through creating a tsunami hazard overlay zone. The ordinance goes into effect in 30 days from its reading at the Aug. 7 City Council meeting.

The designation will address future zoning decisions and reflect the community’s risk tolerance and its application of mitigation measures, according to the city staff report delivered at the ordinance’s first reading in July.

The city has been working with the state’s Department of Land Conservation and Development to update the amendments, Mayor Matt Brown said at the August meeting, initiated by the Gearhart Planning Commission for the state Coastal Resiliency Grant process.

This process could help to allow grant funds to be available for emergency preparedness projects in Gearhart, he added.

Projects that have been discussed are new evacuation route signage including painted signs on the road surfaces, tsunami evacuation towers, new evacuation maps and emergency supply storage.

According to the Office of Coastal Management for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, four jurisdictions — Coos County and the cities of Florence, North Bend, and Reedsport — incorporated the tsunami hazard overlay zones into their land-use planning programs. Regulations limit development of critical facilities within tsunami inundation zones, encourage stronger building techniques, and offer flexible options to people who want to make their development designs even more tsunami-resilient.

Coos County and the cities of Reedsport and Florence have also completed improvement plans for tsunami evacuation facilities. The coastal program collaborated often with communities to ensure that different evacuation perspectives and needs were included.

Gearhart is the first city on the North Coast to pass a tsunami hazard overlay zone ordinance.

At a state level, with the passage of the HB 3309, restrictions on new public buildings in tsunami zones has been lifted. Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill in June, adding in a signing letter “House Bill 3309 restores much needed flexibility, while ensuring that our coast communities remain safe.”

“It’s really our local rule,” City Attorney Peter Watts said. “I’m not sure why that law was passed. It seems counter to everything you’ve been doing, but I’m sure there’s some story somewhere.”

Gearhart’s new rules come with “exceptions built into it” and will not impact the decision of where to place a new fire station, should voters approve a new bond to finance it, City Administrator Chad Sweet said.

If there was no appropriate location outside the tsunami hazard zone “it could be inside the overlay zone, so we could put it pretty well anywhere we need it to,” Sweet said. “We’re doing our best to place it in the place that’s best.”

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